The rolling hills and mountains of the Swabian Alb are perfect for day trips. But for those, who can spend more time here, the rewards are even greater. In this beautiful countryside, a special feature is the so-called Albtrauf, a limestone ridge that runs like a spine from the northeast to the southwest of the region. Whether you explore it on foot or on a bicycle, Fabian Teuber has tips for making it a holiday to remember. So, pull on your hiking boots or strap on your cycling helmet; follow the well-marked trails; spectacular panoramas are guaranteed!
Do you have a week? Then pedal the Alb Crossing. This scenic cycle trail links Aalen in the northeast to Tuttlingen in the southwest. If the total distance of 230 miles / 370 km sounds a bit daunting, then be savvy and rent an e-bike.
Do you have two weeks? Then hike one of Germany’s classic and most-loved trails: the Albsteig. This long-distance hiking trail, labelled HW1, runs diagonally across the Swabian Alb from Donauwörth in the northeast to Tuttlingen in the southwest. You can do the 222 miles / 358 km, in 15 daily stages. Not that this is easy: hiking the Alb is demanding, but well worth the effort!
The Alb from top to toe: A great cycle ride
Right from the start, we have to pedal hard. This is Day One on our six-day tour from Aalen to Tuttlingen. We are ready to enjoy fantastic views and spectacular trails – and to take in sights, such as castles, palaces and the Alb’s famous limestone caves, where important prehistoric remains have been found. We will overnight in small communities along the way: Geislingen, Gruibingen, Bad Urach, Sonnenbühl-Erpfingen and Balingen. The sections range from 30 miles /50 km to 50 miles / 80 km, with stiff climbs and descents. And if you do rent an e-bike, there are charging stations along the route.
Each day brings countless reasons to stop. Today, for example, we take a breather at Weissenstein Castle. High above the old town, the castle dates back to the early 17th century. Now owned by the Kage family, the castle houses the Kages Mikroversum museum, dedicated to microphotography.
With batteries fully charged, we start Day Two, which is all about the views. Our route follows the escarpment. Every gap in the trees offers sensational vistas over the foothills. But in the evening, we must resist temptation: to be in good shape for the following day, we must not over-indulge at the welcoming brewery restaurant in Gruibingen. Luckily, Day Three is not the longest stage, with several excuses to stop. Like pearls on a necklace, we see the ruins of three castles: medieval Reussenstein, Teck with its tall tower, and Hohenneuffen, set high on a bluff – with a rather good beer garden. The route itself is relatively flat, which is a relief for cyclists, who are not using e-bikes. In any case, energy is required for the next day.
Day Four: a real challenge. Luckily, we soothed our aching muscles the previous evening in Bad Urach’s natural thermal baths. Why? Because right after breakfast, we take on the first of three climbs that are today’s tests. We refill our water bottles in Pfullingen and Gomaringen. And we cool down underground. The Alb is famous for spectacular stalactites in caverns, such as the Bear Cave (Bärenhöhle), where prehistoric animals sheltered, and the illuminated Mist Cave (Nebelhöhle).
Equally cooling but above ground are waterfalls. On Day Five, we pass the Schlichem falls near Hausen am Tann in a pretty area known as the Zollernalb. Along the way, we look across at Hohenzollern Castle, where we expect Rapunzel to be letting down her hair. But what surprises us most is the landscape. We didn’t realise that parts of the Swabian Alb are actually flat. Crossing the Killertal Valley does not take long. And, it is a welcome break from the ups and downs, before the final testing stretch. Locals call this a "murderous" climb: but, it is actually good fun!
As it should be, the climax comes at the end. On the last day of the Alb Crossing, we go over Lemberg Mountain, the highest point in the Swabian Alb. Then it is downhill all the way to Tuttlingen. Our Grand Tour of the Swabian Alb is drawing to a close. We agree that six days is not enough; way too short. Maybe we should turn around and pedal back again?
The detailed route description with map, elevation gain, sights, places to stop for refreshments and charging stations is here:
The Alb from top to toe: A classic hike
In the old days, some of the pilgrims walking the Pilgrimage Trail to Santiago de Compostela thought that it was a bit monotonous. Or so the story goes. They should have walked the Albsteig, the Swabian Alb’s long-distance hiking trail that follows the Albtrauf. This classic German route connects so many fascinating places; it is never boring.
The Albtrauf is the escarpment forming the spine of the Swabian Alb, where sheer 1,000-ft / 300-m drops open up vast panoramas. “This is the best,” you think; but around the corner is another, even better one. It is no wonder that, back in the Middle Ages, rulers built castles and fortresses on these intimidating bluffs.
The Albsteig hiking trail rises and falls, going up and down like a roller-coaster. Depending on the weather, hikers almost feel as if they are changing climate zones, as well as altitude! Muscles and lungs work hard. But, at the top, there is time to rest and contemplate the oh-so impressive natural landscape. To get the best out of the experience, allow two weeks and complete the entire Albsteig. That way, you can sit in one of the meadows, where spring brings bees buzzing from flower to flower. You can listen to a woodpecker pounding away at a tree and spot a deer scurrying for cover.
Unspoiled by mass tourism, the Swabian Alb is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Its heathland, studded with juniper bushes, is a rarity in Europe today. The semi-dry grassland provides a habitat for a variety of animals, butterflies and plants, such as orchids, gentian and thyme. Shepherds still tend sheep, a century-old tradition. The sheep graze on anything and everything – except juniper! But they are not the only creatures that thrive. You may even see buffalo and ostrich, which are farmed here.
The Albsteig hiking trail from Donauwörth to Tuttlingen was created a hundred years ago by the Swabian Alb Association, who helped to map out the route. Today, members of the local hiking club are always keen to pass on tips to visitors on everything from the best views and castles to the best taverns and beer gardens!
The entire hiking trail covers a total of 222 miles/ 358 km. Highlights include traditional dishes in cheerful country inns. After all, hearty exercise produces hearty appetites! And rehydration can include beer as well as water!
The Albsteig, or HW 1 long-distance hiking trail, is designated as one of the Top Trails of Germany. Further information on the route, accommodation options and sights can be found at:
New in summer 2020 is the AlbCard. Given free to guests at more than 100 places to stay, it provides free transport on regional buses and trains. And the card gets you free entry to some 120 attractions along or near the Albsteig, from Hohenzollern Castle and thermal spas to the famous prehistoric caves. More information at: